In the United States, you are considered a U.S. Citizen just by being born in the United States. However, I imagine that there are situations where there is no proof that a child was born in the United States, but it would be reasonable to consider or assume that a child was born in the United States, such as finding an infant in the United States.

I know that there are a number of people who do not give birth to their child in a hospital. How do they prove a child was born in the United States, to then give them a birth certificate, therefore, citizenship? Do they trust a mother is telling the truth when she reports her child being born after-the-fact? Who/what agency does she report to, in that case?

What happens if an infant within the United States is found, but no witnesses relating to the child are locatable/found, such as the child's mother? Technically, there is no proof/witness of birth. Does this child get a birth certificate? Do they get citizenship? Where are they a citizen of? If they receive a birth certificate, what date were they considered born?

Was there some sort of court case that a court ruled that an infant found in the United States is considered born in the United States?

  • Birth registration in the US is handled by states or counties, so it would depend on the laws and regulations of that state/county. Do you have a particular location in mind? Typically this is handled by a "department of vital statistics" or some similarly named agency. Commented May 8, 2019 at 6:06
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    @NateEldredge As far as I am concerned, the United States constitution was amended so that anyone born in the United States IS a citizen of the United States. It is not up to the states/counties if they want to play around with citizenship.
    – Eliter
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 6:25
  • This is really many questions at once. My answer covers the case of abandoned children (with unknown parents), but it doesn't cover the many other hypotheticals you are concerned with, such as children with known parents but none of the standard documentation of birth. What constitutes legally accepted documentation of birth varies by jurisdiction; sworn testimony of a certified midwife, or even just a witness, may suffice. Commented May 8, 2019 at 11:59
  • See also discussion of an interesting hypothetical case: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/125062/… law.stackexchange.com/questions/8544/… Commented May 8, 2019 at 14:11

1 Answer 1


This is controlled by 8 U.S.C. § 1401 which details who qualifies for "birthright citizenship". Including of course the condition mandated by the 14th ammendment, Congress is otherwise free to bestow such citizenship essentially as it pleases by duly enacted legislation. One of the cases that receives birthright citizenship is

a person of unknown parentage found in the United States while under the age of five years, until shown, prior to his attaining the age of twenty-one years, not to have been born in the United States.

So the presumption for young children found in the US is that they are citizens by birth. The law in particular requires positive proof that the individual in question was definitely not born in the United States. Lacking this, or it failing to be found prior to reaching the age of 21 years, they are citizens.

For other cases, this will likely end up falling to the courts, who will decide the matter on the preponderance of the evidence. In this case it becomes the burden of the individual claiming citizenship to establish that they are a citizen*. Birth certificates can be filed after birth, and can be submitted as evidence. The laws controlling the validity of birth certificates is locally determined. If there are other birth certificates from other countries, or conflicting witness testimony, then it will fall to the court to decide which case is more likely based on the evidence available.

*More accurately the burden generally falls on the entity making the claim about someone's citizenship (their own or someone else's). In a deportation hearing, for example, it falls to the government to establish the individual is not a US citizen. Deporation only applies to aliens, so the defendant must be established as such.

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